It is extraordinary that London is seeing Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge and Elia Kazan’s great movie On the Waterfront – in Steven Berkoff’s stage adaptation – opening within a week of each other in the same season. Both deal with life and betrayal among the New York longshoremen of the early 1950s in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge.
And both are great tragedies with classical, mythic dimensions. Miller’s tale is specifically about the Italian immigrant community in the slum of Red Hook where “the gullet of New York is swallowing the tonnage of the world.” And our guide is the philosophical lawyer Alfieri (beautifully played by Allan Corduner) who sets a tone of tragic inevitability from the outset.
His subject is Eddie Carbone, a longshoreman too much in love with his own niece who shops a pair of illegal immigrants to the police because one of them plans to marry the girl. Lindsay Posner’s production is perfectly pitched at this level of heightened realism, with a performance by Ken Stott as Eddie that erupts like a wounded bear from the shock of his own unleashed emotions.
I’ve sometimes found Miller’s play over portentous, but the tone is spot-on here, and we are treated to an evening of theatre as rich, satisfying and alarming as any in town at the moment.
The period detail is exact in the costumes and “feel” of the show, Adam Cork’s rumbling soundtrack of ship’s horns, gathering storms and street sounds combining with Christopher Oram’s monumental, peeling outer walls – rising majestically to reveal the cramped, brown varnish family apartment raised on jetty stilts – to frame a scenario of everyday struggle and fleeting happiness swamped in disaster.
Only the sightlines are a problem (bad design fault) with the upstage inset of the main acting area – make sure you sit in the middle of the stalls or circles. Stott’s Eddie – lurching like a drunken prize fighter in the scene where he kisses his niece (Hayley Atwell) and then her blond Sicilian lover boy Rodolpho (Harry Lloyd) full on the mouth – is a great wail of a performance, a Punch-nosed Pagliacci swollen with pain and confusion.
The fine American actress Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, last seen here in Grand Hotel at the Donmar, is a drained, loyally at-the-end-of-a-tether wife Beatrice and the large contributory cast includes Gerard Monaco as Marco, the other Sicilian who precipitates the show-down, and the aptly named Antonio Magro and Enzo Squillino Jr as Eddie’s friends and neighbours, shuffling between the docks and the bowling alley.